BROOMFIELD, Colo. – Insisting the University of Colorado (search) football program doesn't condone sexual misconduct, suspended coach Gary Barnett (search) said Tuesday there is "no question" there was misbehavior at a 2001 party at the center of a rape scandal — but that everyone at the gathering shared the blame.
Barnett, questioned for nearly five hours by a panel investigating recruiting practices at Colorado, said there were 10 people at the off-campus party, including four football athletes — all of whom, afterward, lost their scholarships and were charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor for providing alcohol.
"There is no question in my mind that inappropriate behavior occurred," Barnett said. "There is no question that the behavior of the 10 young people involved was the result of their own poor decisions and under the influence of alcohol."
Two women have alleged they were raped at the party by players or recruits; a third said she was assaulted in a dorm room shortly afterward. They are suing in federal court, seeking unspecified damages for what they say was the school's failure to rein in athletes and provide equal protection to women.
At least eight women since 1997 have accused Colorado football athletes of rape though no charges have been filed. Separate probes are under way by the state attorney general and university.
Barnett's testimony was the most dramatic yet before the Board of Regents' panel investigating whether Colorado uses sex and alcohol to entice recruits. The panel voted to ask for more time to complete its work, meaning a report wouldn't come out until the end of May.
Dressed in a suit and tie and occasionally raising his voice, Barnett said he feels responsible for his players' performance on the field as well as their behavior in the community. But he said there is only so much he can do.
"I have 48 that I have held accountable over the last five years. I can't live their lives for them," he said.
Barnett was put on paid leave for comments he made about two of the alleged rape cases, including that of Katie Hnida (search), a former place-kicker who said she was raped by a teammate in 2000. He called her an "awful" player as he answered questions about why she left Colorado to later enroll at the University of New Mexico.
Barnett waded into the controversy again, telling the panel he spoke with Hnida's friends, former teammates and a rape counselor who spent time with the young woman, and that none heard her talk about harassment or assault.
"I couldn't find anybody to substantiate one single claim and I was looking to substantiate it," Barnett said.
He repeated his belief that Hnida wasn't a good player, but said he wanted her on the team to give her a chance of fulfilling her dream of playing college football.
"I didn't care how awful she was, I wanted her on the team," Barnett said. He said he hoped her presence would help his players learn more about women, and prompt them to behave.
A few hours before Barnett spoke, the panel released a March 30 e-mail from Dr. David Hnida, the woman's father and an Army surgeon now in Iraq. Hnida said Barnett and other university officials must have known about sexual harassment problems his daughter was having at Colorado before she left.
"We both have been distressed at the information we read coming from the university, as well as Gary Barnett," the father wrote. "To be blunt, there is quite a bit of lying and deception right now."
He also said his daughter would be willing to speak to the panel.
Since the controversy erupted, the school has made sweeping changes to its recruiting program. The NCAA (search) is also looking at recruiting reforms.